1. A controversy, once decided by a competent tribunal, cannot
be reexamined by another court of concurrent jurisdiction in a suit
between the same parties or their privies.
2. The statute of Ohio authorizes any person in possession of
real property to institute a suit against anyone who claims an
estate or interest therein adverse to him for the purpose of
determining such adverse estate or interest.
3. The judgment of a court in proceedings under this statute
determines the merits of the plaintiff's title as well as that of
the defendant, and is conclusive whether adverse to one or the
Page 67 U. S. 607
MR. JUSTICE NELSON.
The action was ejectment to recover possession of certain
parcels of land situate in the County of Hamilton.
On the trial the lessor of the plaintiff claimed title to the
premises under the will of Andrew Ferris and Elizabeth A. Parrish,
his wife, who was a daughter and only child of Andrew Ferris.
The defendants by way of defense, claimed title also under the
same will, and in addition set up in bar of a recovery a previous
suit between the same parties in the courts of the State of Ohio
involving the same title, and in which a judgment or decree was
rendered in their favor.
By a statute of Ohio it is provided that
"An action may be brought by any person in possession, by
himself or tenant, of real property, against any person who claims
an estate or interest therein adverse to him for the purpose of
determining such adverse estate or interest."
In 1853, Francis A. Parrish, under whom the present lessor
claims title, being in possession of the premises, instituted
proceedings under this statute against the present defendants in
the Court of Common Pleas of the County of Hamilton, and in his
bill or complaint set forth that he was in possession, holding the
same as absolute owner in fee simple, and with the legal title
thereto of the premises in question, describing them, and charging
that the defendants claimed to have some estate or interest in the
same and prayed that the defendants might be compelled to show what
estate or interest in the lands they or any of them might have;
that the court might determine and declare that the defendants, nor
any of them, had any valid interest or estate therein; and would
order that the title of the plaintiff and his possession be
established and quieted.
To this bill of complaint the defendants answered and admit
Page 67 U. S. 608
the possession of the plaintiff, but deny that he hold the same
as absolute owner in fee simple, and with the legal title thereto,
and then set up title in themselves under the will of Andrew
This is the substance of the issue made between the parties. It
is very much amplified by the form of the pleadings adopted, which
set out the evidence of the facts instead of the facts themselves.
The court, however, looks to the substance of the issue, and by
that it appears that each party claimed title derived from the will
of Andrew Ferris -- the plaintiff claiming by devise through his
wife, the only child of the testator, the defendants as his
brothers and sisters, or their heirs. The title, whether in the one
or the other, turned upon a construction of the will of Andrew
Ferris, the common source of title.
The court, after consideration, held that the plaintiff took the
legal title in the premises and that the defendants had no title or
interest in the same, and gave judgment accordingly, whereupon the
defendants appealed to the district court, which, on account of the
case involving difficult and important questions of law, sent it to
the supreme court for determination.
That court, after holding that no estate passed to the plaintiff
under the will of Andrew Ferris and the devise of his wife and that
it passed to the defendants, the brothers and sisters, reversed the
decision of the court of common pleas and decreed a dismissal of
the bill or complaint and remanded the cause to the district court
to have this decree carried into effect.
It will be seen from the above statement of the issue that the
precise question in the former suit between these parties, or those
under whom they claim, was involved and decided that is presented
in the present one, and further that the decision of the court
could not have been rendered in favor of the defendants in that
suit without determining it. In the former suit, the question
turned upon the construction of the will of Andrew Ferris, which is
the question again sought to be raised in the present one, and
clearly, upon well settled principles, this adjudication by a court
of concurrent jurisdiction must be regarded as
Page 67 U. S. 609
final and conclusive between the same parties, unless some
special ground is shown to take the case out of the rule.
It has been insisted by the counsel for the plaintiffs in error
that this Court is not bound by the decisions of the state courts
upon the construction of wills especially, unless that construction
has, by the repeated decision of the courts, become a fixed rule of
property in the state, and several authorities have been referred
to in support of the position. Without expressing any opinion on
this question, it is a sufficient answer to say, even admitting the
position contended for, it could not help the plaintiff, as it has
no application to the present case. This Court acknowledges the
rule, and has uniformly applied it, of the conclusiveness of a
judgment of a court of concurrent jurisdiction between the same
parties or their privies upon the same question.
It has also been contended that the power conferred upon the
courts by the statute of Ohio under which the proceedings in the
former suit took place did not enable the court to pass a
definitive judgment between the parties upon the legal title. We
have not been furnished with any construction of this statute by
the Supreme Court of Ohio as to the extent and effect of this
jurisdiction. We can only regret this, and give to the act such an
interpretation as seems to us best warranted by its terms, aided by
the practical construction derived from the present litigation in
the state courts.
The statute authorizes any person in possession of real property
to institute a suit against anyone who claims an estate or interest
therein adverse to him for the purpose of determining such adverse
estate or interest. Now it is quite apparent that the title of the
defendant to the lands in question is involved under this act, and
that the determination of the court must be conclusive against him
and all claiming under him as between the parties. If not, the act
is of no effect. And it is difficult to see how this determination
can take place without at the same time necessarily involving the
determination of the plaintiff's title. The estate to be determined
by the very terms of the act is an estate adverse to the plaintiff,
thus raising an issue
Page 67 U. S. 610
between the estate or titles of the respective parties to the
lands in controversy. Again, suppose the determination be, as it
was in this case, in favor of the adverse estate, is the
adjudication of no effect? Is it binding only when against this
estate? We suppose not.
We have said we have been aided upon this point by the practical
construction given to the statute in the proceedings of the court
below. The pleadings put in issue the legal title to the premises
in dispute between the parties -- each set up a claim to the title
and relied solely upon it. The court of common pleas passed upon
this title, and upon nothing else, as did the supreme court on the
appeal. It seems quite clear that both the counsel and the courts
in these proceedings understood the jurisdiction conferred upon
them as we have endeavored to explain it.
The court of common pleas, which decided the question in favor
of the plaintiff, not only adjudged that he had the legal title,
but that the defendants had not. The supreme court, on the appeal,
having reversed this judgment, directed that the proceedings be
remitted to the court below, and there be dismissed.
It was a dismissal of the plaintiff's suit upon the merits, and,
of course, as conclusive upon the rights of the parties as any
other judgment that might have been rendered in the case.
Judgment of the court affirmed.